Some people have a lot of personal or family adolescent traditions, customs centered around summer camp reunions, Hebrew school, or post-soccer ice cream treats. I only have one personal tradition, and it’s watching a four-minute-and-23-second musical YouTube montage of the romantic odyssey of two characters I don’t know on a TV series I’ve never watched.
The video is as follows: the song “Fix You” by Coldplay starts throbbing, as if from inside the gymnasium during a school dance (in this metaphor, we’re outside the gymnasium, hearing the music that’s coming from inside. I don’t know why we left the dance, I think maybe you had to pee?). Immediately, this big doofus guy starts talking over the music. The man has hair like someone stapled a terrier to his skull and bone structure like a fucking god—I’m all ears. He immediately, in scene after scene, starts pouring his heart out to the blonde one, the love of his life. I’m not sure what this show is really about, other than fraternities and sororities, but look: This is gripping and universal. He liked her, it got messed up somehow, but they still love each other, and are sad. You don’t need to be in “the golden age of television” to understand that’s art. The music swells and all the sudden I’m feeling emotions online again.
I’ve hesitated to tell people about “Cappie & Casey - Lights will guide you home (3x09)” because I’m worried about what the response might be. Do I think it’s “weird” that I’ve been compulsively, secretly watching the same poorly edited cut of scenes from a forgotten ABC Family series every year since 2009? Is it “bizarre” that I set no reminder for myself but merely feel, instinctively, like a salmon ready to spray its eggs all over a Yukon riverbed, that it’s time to navigate to YouTube and type “lights will guide you home greek” into the search bar? Am I some sort of “weird guy” for enjoying the serotonin rush this video provides? I don’t believe so, but I always believed that society would judge me harshly for this habit. “Do you start to tear up watching what is essentially an extremely amateurish Coldplay music video?” is the kind of question that could get you disqualified from most branches of the armed services, and were I asked to answer that question before today while under oath, I would have invoked the protections afforded to me by the 5th Amendment of our Constitution.
I don’t know how I first found “Cappie & Casey - Lights will guide you home (3x09).” I don’t remember what I searched—though I doubt it included either “Cappie” or “Casey,” because I don’t know who those people are. It’s probable then, that for some reason during my senior year of college, I typed “lights will guide you home” into the YouTube. Maybe in 2009, in the thick of Obama victory euphoria, that was one of the top results for “lights will guide you home” on YouTube—today it is not. Maybe it was because it was 2009, and I was months deep into a miserable relationship, months away from discovering Zoloft, and a year away from graduating into an economy I wasn’t quite sure would be able to pay me to write blog posts. So, is it some mortal sin to want to regress a little? Was it so wrong to seek escape in a poorly compressed web video depicting barely coherent fragments of a fictional teen TV romance? Please, don’t ever answer that! The internet was still basically pre-Twitter (a euphoric phrase) but largely post-message board, meaning the best hope of company you could find online was your Facebook friends or AIM list—but few places to be alone among strangers. The obscure inlets of YouTube were and still are one such place.
All else aside, I must have wanted to listen to that Coldplay song, despite not being much of a Coldplay fan, and went with a version that was played over dialogue from Greek centered around the characters Casey and Cappie. I’m not sure which one is Casey and which one is Cappie—they’re equally plausible names for the astonishingly white people in question. I had a friend in college whose name was “Chapin,” the point being that anything is possible.
The video itself is hard for me to watch for the same reason the AIM conversations I have saved from high school are hard for me to read: They have an immediate, almost violent transportative ability, and as soon as I’m exposed to it I’m surrounded by ghosts of people whose names I used to keep memorized and whose faces I dreaded and dreamt of in turn. “Cappie & Casey - Lights will guide you home (3x09)” provides a similar stimulus boost, but it’s completely detached from any of my life experience. The show is fictional, obviously, but I didn’t even watch the show. Unlike the life and death of Marissa Cooper in The OC, the heartbreak of Cappie and Casey was not one I actually lived through on my television as a teenager myself. And yet it’s devastating. I can’t stop subjecting myself to it, won’t stop losing myself in its simulacrum of teen dumbness.
The video provides an injection of extremely potent, completely artificial and contrived nostalgia, a maudlin wave I will ride year after year. It doesn’t bother me that the YouTube looks like it was created by a video editor that Microsoft bundled with windows and abandoned many, many years ago. It doesn’t distract me when the Coldplay track and the dialogue track are so muddied together that I can’t tell whether I’m hearing Cappie stop Casey on the stairs and tell her he wishes he’d told her he loved her at that party or Chris Martin. I don’t mind any of that. I see none of the video’s flaws. All I see is Cappie’s mouth hanging open when Casey hugs some other dipshit, or the two sharing a laugh at the beach (?), or Cap telling his bud on the roof (?) that Casey “isn’t just some other girl… at least not to me.”
I can forget myself in this YouTube. It’s so deeply shitty that no algorithm will ever recommend it. I used to be able to lose myself online, to just drift quietly from strange thing to strange thing, to rifle through raw, obscure web materials in peace. I used to spend happy quiet hours after school on the web, when I was the age the actors playing Cappie and Casey so desperately and poorly faked.
Now being online is my job, and the web is full of nazis and Wahabi propagandists and Louise Mensch and ransomware. The fascinating ugly blocks of Geocities and MP3 blogs were bulldozed to make room for Facebook and Twitter, so dull and sterile. The Greek fan forum that spawned this bewitching video shut itself down in 2011. There are some really good jokes on Twitter, some genuinely bizarre stuff that almost makes it halfway fun until you realize some untold stinking mass of people are watching alongside it. But the difference is that nothing can just be yours on the web anymore—you have to share it with the reporters and VCs and flaks and interns and swastika cartoon freaks. Where’s there left to slum it online? Well, I’ve got Cappie & Casey - Lights will guide you home (3x09). Stay the hell away and find your own.